Your home is your castle, but you probably never envisioned having an indoor swimming pool. During flood season, that’s exactly what can happen.
Of course, you could experience a flooded home at any time of the year. If the power dies, your sump pump stops working and it’s raining outside, water could seep into your basement. Clogged or loose gutters can lead to rain pooling on the roof and eventually making its way into your home. Bad plumbing could result in a flooded home, or someone could put too much soap and clothes in the washing machine, and suddenly you have a tidal wave of bubbles and water in your living room.
Of course, anyone who has been through a real flood can tell you that a few inches of rain in your basement or water leaking into the living room is nothing compared to having the entire first floor flooded.
So if you want to keep your home dry, here’s what you should be thinking about.
Is Your House in a Flood Zone?
Maybe you don’t have much to worry about, or perhaps it’s time to be concerned. How do you know if your house is in a flood zone? “Your first line of defense is to check out the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood maps,” says Harris Benson, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman Texas, a real estate company.
You can find them here. Simply type in your street address, and you’ll soon know if you’re in a minimal risk area — or something much worse. FloodFactor.com, a tool devised by a New York-based flood research nonprofit called First Street Foundation, is also worth checking.
If you’re interested in buying a house in a zone with some level of flood risk, Benson says that you may want to obtain an elevation certificate. (You can often get these documents from your city or county, and you may be able to download them from your local government’s website for free.)
“This is used to certify building elevations and determine your flood risk and the cost of your flood insurance. This document shows the location of the building, lowest floor elevation, building characteristics and flood zone,” Benson says. “Your insurance agent will use this to compare your building’s elevation to the base flood elevation shown on the flood map being used for rating and determine the cost to cover your flood risk.”
Should You Get Flood Insurance?
Only you can decide. You may live in an area with a 1% chance of a flood and still feel as if it’s not a bad idea.
That said, if you live in in a flood-prone neighborhood, that would seem to suggest that there’s a good argument that you should strongly consider buying it.
Earl Jones, owner of Earl L. Jones Insurance Agency in Sunnyvale, California, says the biggest provider (but not the only one) of flood insurance is FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Jones says FEMA only offers a maximum of $250,000 to rebuild or repair your home and a maximum of $100,000 to replace personal property.
“There are private flood insurance providers in the marketplace that will provide higher limits for coverage. Clients just need to ensure the private flood insurance provider meets their lender’s requirements of an S&P rating of A or higher,” Jones says.
What Are Your Flood-Proofing Options?
FEMA has a lot of suggestions for flood-proofing a home. Here are some.
— Replace carpeting with tiles.
— Seal your basement walls with waterproofing compounds. Consider installing a sump pump.
— Use flood-resistant insulation and drywall.
— Look into adding a sewer backflow valve. Flooding can sometimes cause sewage to back up through drainpipes, and a sewer backflow prevention valve might help. You’ll want to talk to a plumber.
— Check caulking around windows and doors to make sure nothing is cracked, broken or missing. Fill any holes or gaps around pipes and wires that enter your building since water could get through.
— Elevate your house. If your area is known for flooding up to 10 feet high, you’ll want to make sure the house is higher. FEMA’s website acknowledges this might be pricey.
The Cost of Flood Damage
Elevating a house or hiring a civil engineer? Isn’t that a little much?
Maybe, and for a lot of people, probably. Still, spending some money to save money later may be worth it. According to FEMA, just an inch of floodwater inside a home can do more than $25,000 in damage.
New research that came out earlier this year from First Street Foundation suggests that by 2051, rising sea levels and extreme weather will cause $32 billion a year in flooding damage in the U.S. Currently, the country sees about $20 billion a year in flood damage.
Approximately 4.3 million homes, mostly in Florida, California, South Carolina and Texas, have a significant chance of experiencing flood damage this year, according to First Street Foundation’s report.
Fearing Floods? What to Know Before Buying a Home
Of course, “the best way to mitigate the risk of flood is to avoid buying a home in a known flood zone,” says Mark Snyder, a claims expert at Hi Marley, a communication platform for the insurance industry. Snyder has also worked for several insurance companies.
Because not all flooding happens in a flood zone, Snyder suggests that if you’re buying a home, you should consider these factors.
The elevation of your property relative to the rest of the area. In other words, Snyder says, “Don’t buy the lowest-elevation house in the neighborhood.”
Stormwater and groundwater drainage scheme, capacity and flow rates. When it rains, do you have streams and mini-lakes appearing in your yard? Those could threaten your home.
Water intrusion history for the property. You’ll want to at least look at the past 10 years.
Development plans. You’ll want to look at “any housing or commercial development plans by the city or county that will reduce storm run-off capacity and negatively impact groundwater drainage approach or storm run-off flow rate,” Snyder says.
That scenic creek nearby. Could it turn into a raging river? “Any bucolic streams on the property that, while look good on the surface, could turn into significant water intrusion sources,” Snyder says.
Getting this information might not be exactly easy, but Snyder says one of the best ways to understand a property’s history and potential for water threats is to to talk to as many neighbors as possible. You could also hire a civil engineer with knowledge of the local area to perform a flood risk assessment.
Benson also points out that you can ask the listing agent to obtain the seller’s disclosure notice from their client, the seller.
“This is a document where the seller is required to disclosure all defects and history of the property that they are aware of. This includes whether the land it sits on or the home itself has flooded in the past,” Benson says.
Benson, too, likes the idea of talking to the neighbors about whether the homes in the area have flooded.
After all, if you’re looking to buy a house, you’re looking for a lot of intel. You aren’t just worried about floods; you’re curious about the neighborhood, the schools and whether you live next to a noisy neighbor or somebody who is likely to borrow all of your gardening tools.
In all seriousness, you want to make sure you do everything you can to keep your home safe from floods. Dampness tended to be a feature in castles, but that’s not a selling point in a house today. Swimming pools belong outside.
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